The Right, The Left, and The Silent

January 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

Guatemala, El Salvador, and the United States all stake different positions concerning the Latin American massacres.

by John Washington 

On this past 14th of January an ex-general of the Guatemalan Army, Otto Pérez Molina, took office as the right-wing, self-proclaimed strong-arm (mano dura) President of Guatemala, promising to get tough on organized crime and drug-trafficking. The new President’s message, however, comes with baggage: Guatemalan Army’s recent and sordid history. The 36-year Civil War in the country, in which the Army committed systematic and ethnically-targeted massacres and razing, ended only fifteen years ago, in 1996. But the distaste in some for the new President comes not only from implication by association, that is, that he was simply part of an organization responsible for atrocities. Pérez himself has been openly and repeatedly accused of direct involvement in tortures and massacres. It has also been repeatedly claimed that Pérez Molina was on the CIA payroll and, according to the website, SOA Watch, that he was a graduate of the infamous School of Americas. Though Pérez claims to support “a military deactivation” in the country, how can Guatemalan citizens, especially those who suffered 36-plus years of abuse at the hands of the military, trust an ex-general who also proclaims to be willing to “use all the necessary military force” to ensure internal security? The message that Pérez sends is contradictory and, despite his dubious proclamation of “military deactivation,” undeniably militant, threatening to Calderón (President of Mexico whose drug-war crackdown has driven the country to the precipice of what some are calling a failed state) an already torn social fabric.

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Decline ‘Friend’ Request: Social Media Meets 21st Century Statecraft in Latin America

January 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

by Cyril Mychalejko

A Senate report released in October 2011 urging the US government to expand the use of social media as a foreign policy tool in Latin America offers another warning for activists seduced by the idea of technology and social media as an indispensable tool for social change.

In this past year as the world witnessed uprisings from Santiago to Zuccotti Park to Tahrir Square, social media has been lauded as a weapon of mass mobilization. Paul Mason, a BBC correspondent, wrote in his new book published this month Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions (excerpted in the Guardian) that this new communications technology was a “crucial” contributing factor to these revolutionary times. Nobel peace laureate and Burmese human rights campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi pointed out in a lecture in June that this “communications revolution…not only enabled [Tunisians] to better organize and co-ordinate their movements, it kept the attention of the whole world firmly focused on them.”  CNN even ran an article comparing Facebook to “democracy in action”, while Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who was imprisoned in Egypt for starting a Facebook page told Wolf Blitzer that the revolution in Egypt “started on Facebook” and that he wanted to “meet Mark Zuckerberg some day and thank him personally.”

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Latin America’s left at the crossroads

September 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Income inequality rose under Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Gallo/Getty)

William I. Robinson writes at Al Jazeera on the subject of the Pink Tide–“the ambiguous turn to the left in recent years in several Latin American countries”:

The Pink Tide governments have been “leftist” insofar as they have introduced limited wealth redistribution, restored a minimal role for the state in regulating accumulation, and administered government expansion in more inclusionary ways. When we cut through the rhetoric, however, a number of these governments – such as the Socialists in Chile, Kirchner in Argentina, and Lula in Brazil – were able to push forward capitalist globalisation with greater credibility than their orthodox neo-liberal predecessors, and, in doing so, to deradicalise dissent and demobilise social movements. What emerged was an elected progressive bloc in the region committed to mild redistributive programmes respectful of prevailing property relations and unwilling or simply unable to challenge the global capitalist order – a new, post-neo-liberal form of the national state tied to the larger institutional networks of global capitalism.

In many Pink Tide countries there has been no significant change in the unequal distribution of income or wealth, and indeed, inequality may actually be increasing.  Nor has there been any shift in basic property and class relations despite changes in political blocs, despite discourse favouring the popular classes, and despite mildly reformist or social welfare measures. In Argentina, for instance, the percentage of national income going to labour (through wages) and to the unemployed and pensioners (through social welfare subsidies and pensions) dropped from 32.5 per cent in 2001, before the crisis exploded, to 26.7 per cent in 2005. In Kirchner’s own words, the aim of his policies was to reconstruct capitalism in the country, “a capitalism in which the state plays an intelligent role, regulating, controlling, and mitigating where necessary problems that the market does not solve”. Despite its social programmes, the Kirchner administration worked to demobilise and divide Argentina’s social movements.
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September 11

September 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

The following is Ken Loach’s contribution to 11’09″01 September 11 a film in which French director Alain Brigand invited leading film makers from 11 different nations to provide their own impression of the September 11 attacks in 11 minutes, 9 seconds and one frame. Loach’s contribution won the the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Prize for Best Short Film.

The Andean Connection: Tracking the Drug War’s Coca Leaves and Failed Policies

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

(Credit: Flickr/whertha)

by Benjamin Dangl

This article first appeared in The Indypendent.

Cocaine, the drug fueling the trade that’s left thousands dead in Mexico and Central America since 2007 and which 1.4 million Americans are addicted to, originates with two species of the coca plant grown in the South American Andes. Ninety percent of the U.S. market for cocaine is fed by Colombia, with the rest largely provided by Peru and Bolivia.

An estimated 310 to 350 tons of refined cocaine were trafficked out of Colombia last year, enough to make a rail of nose candy that would encircle the earth twice. Along with exporting cocaine northward, Colombia has become a laboratory for failed drug war policies that are finding their way to Central America and Mexico.

In July 2000 President Bill Clinton signed Plan Colombia (see note following article for more information) into law, initiating the anti-drug-producing and trafficking operation that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $7.3 billion to date. U.S. military bases have been established in Colombia under the plan, as have extensive air patrols, pesticide spraying and surveillance. Because of the violence, some 2.5 million Colombians have been displaced.

“The lessons of Colombia are being ignored in many ways. You’ll have mainstream analysts saying Colombia is the model to win the drug war. If Colombia is winning then what are the Colombians trafficking?” drug war expert Sanho Tree, a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., told The Indypendent.

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Private Contractors Making a Killing off the Drug War

June 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

by Cyril Mychalejko

As tens of thousands of corpses continue to pile up as a result of the US-led “War on Drugs” in Latin America, private contractors are benefiting from lucrative federal counternarcotics contracts amounting to billions of dollars, without worry of oversight or accountability.U.S. contractors in Latin America are paid by the Defense and State Departments to supply countries with services that include intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, training, and equipment.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that our efforts to rein in the narcotics trade in Latin America, especially as it relates to the government’s use of contractors, have largely failed,”said U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, chair of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight which released a report on counternarcotics contracts in Latin America this month. “Without adequate oversight and management we are wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we’re getting in return.”

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The political power of literature

February 24, 2011 § 3 Comments

Can literature inspire revolutions? What role do artists and intellectuals play on the frontline of popular uprisings?

Pakistan: A Deficit of Dignity

February 2, 2011 § 7 Comments

M. Shahid Alam

Pakistan’s rulers and ruling elites may well be thinking that the wave of people’s indignation that started in Tunisia and is now working its way through Egypt, Jordan and Yemen will never reach them. Perhaps, they are telling each other, ‘We are safe: we are a democracy.’

The Arabs who are pouring into the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen are not protesting only against their dictatorships. Simultaneously, they are also protesting against governments that have sold their dignity and bartered the honor of their country. Nearly, all the Arab rulers are self-castrated eunuchs in the courts of foreign powers, who have turned their own countries into police states, and who jail, maim, torture and kill their own people to please their masters.

The Arabs are venting their anger against elites who have stymied their energies by turning their societies into prisons. In complicity with foreign powers, these elites have ruled by fear, blocking the forward movement of their people because this movement collides with the imperialist ambitions of Israel and the United States.

It is true that Pakistan has had ‘elected’ governments alternating with military dictatorships. Increasingly, however, these governments, whether civilian or military, have differed little from each other. The priority for both is to keep their power and US-doled perks by doing the bidding of the United States and Israel.

Starting in the early 1990s, Pakistan hurriedly embraced the neoliberal paradigm that emanated from Washington. Hastily, successive ministers of finance and privatization – all of them IMF appointees – went about dismantling Pakistan’s industries, selling off for a song its state-owned enterprises, and empowering Pakistan’s elites to engage in unchecked consumerism.

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Coup University: SOUTHCOM and FIU Team Up on Counterinsurgency

November 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

by Adrienne Pine

As it has done with great success throughout the past century, the U.S. military continues to find ways to use the academy and anthropological concepts to whitewash its imperialist actions in the service of U.S. corporate profits. In Latin America from 1963-1965, Project Camelot set a dark precedent for the use of social science to abet and legitimate counterinsurgency operations including psychological warfare. Now, the U.S. Military’s Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the Pentagon’s arm in Latin America and responsible for all U.S. bases the region, and Florida International University (FIU) have partnered in the creation of a so-called “Strategic Culture” Initiative, a center that hosts workshops and issues reports on the “strategic culture” of different Latin American countries. At present, reports have been issued from ArgentinaBoliviaBrazilChileColombiaCubaEcuadorEl SalvadorGuatemalaHaitiNicaraguaPeru, and Venezuela.

On its website, the FIU-SOUTHCOM initiative defines strategic culture as “the combination of internal and external influences and experiences – geographic, historical, cultural, economic, political and military – that shape and influence the way a country understands its relationship to the rest of the world, and how a state will behave in the international community.” However, from a look at their reports it is clear that a more accurate definition would be “strategic propaganda for the creation of hegemonic political ideology favorable to U.S. economic and military interests.” Here is an excerpt from the Peru report:

The elements of the new strategic culture, if it continues to emerge, will be to end or reduce the plaintive note of victim-hood in discussion of the nation’s role in world affairs. Ironically, Chile will become the model for the new Peruvian strategic culture – focused on the successes of economic growth, political stability, and an honest effort to incorporate peripheral regions and marginal groups into national life. Peru, more than Chile, can base its national pride on multi-ethnic assimilation. This new national integration, along with the openness to trade and investment will be the principal components of Peru’s new soft power…Peru will join Brazil and Chile as bulwarks of democracy and open economies, set as an example against the archaic rhetoric and self-defeating economic autarchy of the Bolivarian alliance.

Learning From Latin American Social Movements: Introduction to Dancing with Dynamite Book

November 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Benjamin Dangl’s new book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, (October, 2010, AK Press), recommended by Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman:

Ben Dangl breaks the sound barrier, exploding many myths about Latin America that are all-too-often amplified by the corporate media in the United States.  Read this much-needed book.”

***

The motorcycle thundered off the highway onto a jungle road of loose red dirt framed by trees, families lounging in front of their farmhouses, and small herds of disinterested cows. We pulled up to a dusty store to buy food for our stay in the rural community of Oñondivepá, Paraguay, and asked the woman behind the counter what was available. She nodded her head, picked up a saw, and began hacking away at a large slab of beef. We strapped the meat and a box of beer on to the back of the motorcycle and roared off down the road.

A volleyball game was going on when we arrived in the area where landless activist Pedro Caballero lived. His wife offered us fresh oranges while his children ran around in the dirt, playing with some wide-eyed kittens. The sun had set, so Caballero’s wife lifted a light bulb attached to a metal wire onto an exposed electric line above the house, casting light on our small gathering of neighbors. Suddenly, the dogs jumped to action, joining in a barking chorus, and lunged toward the edge of the woods. They had found a poisonous snake, a common cause of death in this small community far from hospitals.

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